Ranking the 20 Best Passing Teams in Europe's Major Leagues by Stats
Which teams use the ball best will always be something of a rhetorical question, but the advent of statistics in football and our ability to asses one side against another can bring some interesting conclusions.
To that end, here we look at which teams are amongst the best passers out of Europe's major leagues: England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
These are the top 20 clubs from those five top flights, as determined by their passing stats.
Statistics are provided by whoscored.com.
Methodology and Notable Omissions
A minimum average of 53 percent possession in domestic league matches for the current season was set as the cut-off point for considered teams.
After that, a weighting was applied to average possession scores as well as pass success rate for the entire team to ensure accuracy as well as consistency was accounted for.
In addition, since possession without penetration amounts to very little in the world of football and winning matches, an additional weighting was added for chances created per game on average.
The final tallies yielded the order within this ranking.
It should be kept in mind that this is to look at teams' abilities to control matches by adopting a passing approach to creating chances, to dominating games more often than not. This does not, however, indicate that a team will automatically win—a shoddy defence or poor finishers at key moments can undo all the good build-up work which takes place beforehand.
The following is a small handful of clubs who just missed the final cut.
Athletic Bilbao in Spain and Borussia Dortmund in Germany both have the same issue: reasonably high average possession figures but poor pass completion rates.
Valencia have been good at passing and controlling possession in games—but not at making enough great use of the ball, with few shooting opportunities, comparatively speaking.
Tottenham and Inter Milan do "well" without being outstanding in all three categories, ensuring they miss out, while the likes of Lille and Lyon in France also miss the cut.
20. Southampton, Premier League
We kick off with Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton side, currently sitting in ninth place in the Premier League.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana are amongst their pass masters, with the boss favouring a high-tempo pressing and passing approach.
Saints average close to 58 percent possession in each Premier League game, enabling them to score highly in that regard, though they fall somewhat on translating that to tangible shots on goal.
19. Chelsea, Premier League
Chelsea are a fairly solid all-round unit in terms of their ball use.
Under Jose Mourinho, they are a tough-to-beat outfit, at times by recycling the ball deep with their attacking players stretching play to keep the opposition pegged back in their own half.
The Blues manage to turn their possession into chances on goal extremely well, however, boosting their overall scoring in that regard.
18. Liverpool, Premier League
A third Premier League team in a row, Liverpool actually have one of the lowest possession percentages of the teams considered but have a good accuracy rate, indicating they use the ball well when they have it.
That is further backed up by their high number of shots per game and the goals they score.
Liverpool are currently fourth in the Premier League table.
17. Rayo Vallecano, La Liga
Proof that great possession does not always necessarily mean great points tallies is Rayo Vallecano.
The first Spanish side on our list, Rayo are currently one place off the foot of La Liga's table, despite having the second-highest average possession rate, with more than 60 percent per game.
Rayo simply don't score enough goals and concede far too many, something all the passing in the world cannot remedy.
16. Monaco, Ligue 1
Monaco have recorded the second-highest average possession in Ligue 1, the second-highest pass success rate and the second-highest shots per game rate.
They're also second in the table.
Maybe there's something in that.
15. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Bundesliga
Our first German-based team is fifth-placed 'Gladbach.
They record the second-highest possession in the Bundesliga, though also one of the lowest shot per game rates out of any of the teams considered.
If they were able to make a slightly greater impact in the final third, it could have serious consequences for their top-four ambitions.
14. Everton, Premier League
Back to the Premier League, Everton score fairly well across the board.
Roberto Martinez has his men playing with flair at times, as they average more than 56 percent possession in league games this season.
Good ball retention and the sixth-highest shots-per-game rate in the Premier League gives them a respectable placing to go along with their sixth-place standing in their domestic league.
13. Napoli, Serie A
Napoli are currently in third place in Italy's Serie A, chasing the front two but looking comfortable enough for a Champions League place.
They manage more than 15 shots per game but are outside the top three for that particular statistic as well as possession and pass success within Serie A overall, indicating again, perhaps, that having the ball is not simply the be-all and end-all.
12. Manchester United, Premier League
Manchester United have shown that they can use the ball well in the middle third this season, with their possession and pass success numbers backing that up.
Where they seem to be falling down further than usual is in the final third, creating quality scoring chances.
Their 14.3 shots per game is only good for seventh in the Premier League—that's their league placing, too.
Maybe if they work on their crossing a little more...
11. Arsenal, Premier League
Arsenal are still looking for a title challenge in the Premier League and many teams have fallen victim to their swift passing attacks.
With 57 percent possession in league games, they certainly dominate more often than not, though a lowly 14.2 shots per game costs them dearly in these rankings—perhaps showing they could be more ruthless at times.
10. AC Milan, Serie A
AC Milan are having a season to forget, marooned in midtable in Serie A.
Despite their lowly position, Milan do tend to dominate matches, averaging a joint-high 59.5 percent possession each game in their league. A hefty 17.1 shots per game is also an impressive statistic.
Manager Clarence Seedorf has some starting points then, but how to translate this into more points in games?
9. Fiorentina, Serie A
Fiorentina aren't far behind AC Milan in the possession stakes but outperform them by far with their passing accuracy.
In fact, only the top two in Italy have a better pass success rate than Fiorentina.
La Viola sit fourth in the table, chasing a Champions League spot.
8. Swansea City, Premier League
If Michael Laudrup was sacked for eroding Swansea's principles, we can only assume a passing approach to matches wasn't one of them.
Swansea lead the Premier League by possession stats, with 59.9 percent on average this term...but they are badly let down by a lack of incisiveness, managing only 13.7 shots per game so far.
They're up to 10th in the table after a derby-day win, but the bottom half is so close, they cannot afford to drop points with regularity.
7. Manchester City, Premier League
Manchester City are in third place in the Premier League and gunning hard for the title, despite dropping points in their most recent games.
City dominate possession to the tune of almost 58 percent each game, with their accuracy more than 86 percent, too.
Of course, City's biggest threat is their array of attacking talent and, being the top scorers in the Premier League, you won't be surprised to hear they score highly by virtue of their chances created, too, being fourth-highest out of all teams considered.
6. Juventus, Serie A
Juventus are flying high at the top of Serie A and boast an impressive array of attacking talent to help them stay there.
They also have some of the best on-the-ball midfielders around, too, helping them post great passing stats. Juve have the second-highest pass success rate in the top flight and post significantly more shots on goal each match than their rivals, with 17.8 the highest in the division.
5. Real Madrid, La Liga
Real Madrid are joint top of La Liga on points with two other teams, so we're set for an exciting finish to the campaign in Spain.
Not often noted as a controlled, pass-based, build-up side, Real's great array of talent nonetheless lets them dominate opponents and they have averaged almost 60 percent possession every game this season.
They also attempt a whopping 19.3 shots per game—the second highest in all five major leagues.
4. AS Roma, Serie A
AS Roma continue their assault on Serie A and sit second in the table.
They, in fact, have the joint-highest possession average in the league, the best pass success rate at 86.6 percent and average more than 16 shots per game, good for top 10 amongst all teams monitored in this ranking.
3. Barcelona, La Liga
For so long lauded as the best passing club team on the planet, Barcelona have undergone a bit of a change under Tata Martino, according to some.
Well, they still average 66.9 percent possession each game, the second-highest in Europe's major leagues and a full 6 percent more than their nearest challenger domestically. They also have the third-best pass success rate, with 88.6 percent, in these rankings.
Just to reinforce the message then, Barcelona still pass the ball pretty well.
2. Paris Saint-Germain, Ligue 1
Top of Ligue 1 and second in our rankings is PSG.
With close to 65 percent possession in league games, they are far and away the best in that regard in France, and third out of our group of teams here. They also have the best pass success rate, bar none, completing 88.7 percent of all passes.
Where they fall just slightly in their bid for top spot is their shot count—they register 16 per game. Far from poor but not enough to claim first place.
1. Bayern Munich, Bundesliga
Approximately zero people will be surprised to see Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich come out on top of the rankings.
Bayern are well clear in the Bundesliga, set for another title, while they also lead domestically in possession, pass success and shots per game statistics. Averaging 19.4 shots per game, they are, in fact, the most potent attackers out of all the top leagues.
Bayern Munich take the crown for the best passers in Europe and few who watch them could argue against it.
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